Sisters of Shiloh

Sisters of Shiloh


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"Kathy and Becky Hepinstall plunge us so deeply into a complete and vividly rendered world. . . We can smell the gun powder and taste the metallic tinge of fear along with their remarkable heroines.” — Janis Cooke Newman, author of

“[The Hepinstalls] present lucky readers with a tale of love and hate, vengeance and devotion, and the darkest secrets imaginable. Highly recommended for all.” —Historical Novels Review
Before joining the Confederate Army, brothers Joseph and Thomas were actually sisters, Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby widowed. She vows vengeance, dons her husband Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of her husband’s too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby hurtles toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost, while Josephine falls in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him.

In Sisters of Shiloh, best-selling novelist Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show readers the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt and heal.
“Sisters of Shiloh is a refreshing take on the Civil War, the bonds of sisterhood, and the bondage of love . . . Be prepared to be parked in a chair all day!” —The Christian Manifesto
“A fascinating glimpse into Civil War life from an unconventional perspective.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544705197
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 03/29/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 405,145
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

This is their first novel together.

Read an Excerpt

Libby waited for her dead husband in the woods, her breath making clouds in the cold night air. Her hair was cut short above her ears, and her neck was cold. Her wool uniform itched. She had not slept in two days. She leaned against a bay tree as the fog moved through the woods. She closed her eyes and began to drift. She heard the crackle of a footstep and opened her eyes. The fog cleared and Arden stood in front of her, pale and somber, the red stain of his stomach wound still fresh and spreading out across his gray jacket.
    She was exhausted from the march, and the sight of him no longer caused the shock and dread of the earlier encounters. She had resolved that there must be a realm, when the fractions of night and fog reached some magical equation, where the living and the dead could coexist. Arden, though, had grown increasingly moody and demanding.
    “How many have you killed?” he asked.
    Her fingers shook as she counted them. She had known the answer at noon but had forgotten it with the coming of dusk.
    “Nine? Still?”
    “I’m trying, Arden.” She looked at the blood spreading over his shirt.
    “And your sister. How many has she killed?”
    “I don’t know.”
    He leaned in close.
            “You’re a liar. You do know. And you know who else she killed, don’t you?”
Winchester, Virginia

They were sisters, the pretty one and the one who lived in her shadow, a pale, chip-toothed, uncertain girl who made too much noise while eating celery. They lived on the outskirts of Winchester, in a house owned by their father, a dentist by trade. The fields behind their property grew wild with evening primrose and goldenrod. Near the cornfield on the east side of their property stood an apple orchard, and it was here that golden Libby and chipped-toothed Josephine, Libby’s elder by a year, made their sanctuary, taking refuge from everything: the yelps of children during tooth extractions, the peskiness of a little brother, the swift, severe gaze of a mother, general pangs, harsh sunlight, and chores.
    The other children in town courted the affections of Libby, but she preferred the sweet mixture of orchard and sister, all that shade and adoration.
    When Josephine was thirteen, a shadow trespassed on that filtered light. The family next door had moved from a small town near Fredericksburg called Shiloh, a young couple with three sons. The oldest was named Arden. He came strutting into the yard on a warm spring day, when the leaves in the orchard were curling tendrils, and the shadows hung dark, waiting for May to lighten them into the brown of an Angus bull. He wore a pair of corduroys and a shirt with a Western design; his hair was almost as light as Libby’s and his face just as angular. His eyes gave off different inferences that depended on the angle of approach. Libby saw wildness and sweetness and a deep capacity for sorrow. Josephine saw arrogance and entitlement and a lack of respect for elder sisters.
    Soon Arden’s feet were swinging from the branches, and the quality of conversation was forced into a different season, one that incorporated boys. Now Indian talk pierced the orchard, fishing lore, legends, and brutal accounts of cats killing birds. Pirate stories and secret caves, the challenge of breaking a colt. Even the drifting scent changed from the faint lavender of girls to the sweat of a hot boy. Something was unnatural here, like a tree that fruits before it blooms. Josephine was gently elbowed out of the shade until she no longer entered the orchard at all but lurked at the perimeter.
    She didn’t understand how to be alone. She felt insubstantial, impermanent as silence in a room full of women. There was some kind of secret to making friends, and, denied this, she began to spend her time in her father’s office. Children cried and teeth flew.
    “Hand me the laudanum,” her father said.
    She watched him pour the opiate onto a spoon to numb a patient’s pain. She imagined the bottle held to her own lips, pain declining, pleasure growing. The sweetness of a watermelon, the dreaminess of a summer afternoon, the cool water of a fishing hole, the softness of ferns.
Hostility toward the whole led to belligerence about the fractions. His laugh. His haircut. The shape of his arms. The blue of his eyes. The way his pretty face resembled Libby’s.
    “You spend so much time with him,” she complained to Libby. “How about me? I thought I was your best friend.”
    “Don’t be silly. You can sit in the orchard with us anytime.”
    “That was our orchard!”
    “Oh, Josephine. Orchards belong to everyone.”
    When Libby and Arden weren’t in the orchard, they would disappear into the woods and stay gone for hours, returning with new secrets, certain stories exchanged, pebbles gathered, sparrow eggs rescued, snakes slain. The sight of the interloper drove Josephine to distraction. She had nightmares in which he fell from the branch of a tree or from the top of their house, grasping her sister’s hand and pulling her down with him.
A year had passed. Autumn had arrived. The apples were heavy in the orchard, weighing down the limbs. Flowering weeds turned colors or withdrew their blooms. The sky was white in places, sweet blue in others.
    Libby’s illness began as a weariness, a desire for naps. Quickly it grew a fever, then chills. The orchard sat empty. Libby lay in a dim room, her face flushed and skin perspiring. Arden visited her at first, but when she grew worse, he could not look at her without bursting into tears, and Mrs. Beale sent him away.
    “Get ahold of yourself, son. You aren’t helping matters.”
    Despite the protestations of her mother, it was Josephine who took over, fetching teas and applying poultices, whispering, singing, telling her own tales, finally. She wiped down the floors with lavender water so that Libby could awaken to the fragrance of flowers. She brewed tea, heated soup on the fire in the kitchen. Her nursing skills defined her, made her whole again.
    A framed tintype sat on the night table. Two little girls stared out from it, one with golden hair and the other with bright eyes and a contented smile. Their father had taken them down to the studio at the Taylor Hotel as a birthday present for Josephine a few years earlier. She couldn’t help staring at it now and remembering those days when Libby was healthy and belonged to her.
    They would speak to each other, sister to sister, Libby’s voice dreamy and hot, a breeze coming through the open window, a pail of water on the nightstand, a gingham cloth dripping water on the floor.
    “Hold still,” Josephine said, as she applied the compress.
    No sign of Arden, whom their mother would not let back in the house.
    Apples fell, too ripe now for eating. One day the chickens got loose and spent the day in the orchard, eating the bruised flesh. Crows came to that harvest, as did raccoons and deer.
    The corn had ripened. Stephen, the lazy younger brother, was supposed to have gathered the ears but spent his time chasing an elusive bullfrog down a winding creek, coming back with his pants wet up to the waist. He slogged into Libby’s room, dripping water on the floor and corrupting the sweet air with the sweaty odor of his body.
    “Get out,” Josephine said.
    “She’s my sister, too.”
    “You’re smelly. That can’t be good for her.”
Whispers from their parents’ room.
    “She’s not getting any better,” said their mother.
    “I don’t know what to do. I’m a dentist, for God’s sakes. And that crazy old doctor hasn’t helped a bit.”
    “There are better doctors in Richmond .?.?.”
    “Richmond? How can she possibly make that trip?”
    Fever moved through Libby’s body. She shook with chills and soaked her sheets with perspiration. Symptoms in opposition and growing further apart, like the views of the North and South. She mumbled things that made no sense. The old doctor came again and stood by her bedside and saw the bad news like everyone else. When he put on his stethoscope, one knob fell out of his big ear and he didn’t seem to notice. He pressed the metal disk against a vein throbbing in her neck.
    As if prodded by the shaking hands of the doctor and the look on his face, Josephine’s father went to town and returned with a pine coffin. He didn’t sneak it in at night but dragged it purposefully off his wagon, across the yard, and into an old shed at the far end of the property. Josephine opened the window of Libby’s room and watched him. The coffin made a rushing sound in the dry grass, thumping occasionally against a rock or a rake Stephen had left in the yard. Dogs ran up and sniffed it before they sidled away. Dr. Beale walked with a stiff and singular purpose, dragging the coffin right through the herb garden and between the stables. The horses poked their heads out and watched him disappear into the shed.
    Mrs. Beale came into the room but didn’t look out the window or at Libby. She searched the room for something neutral, settling on a used teabag that drained brown liquid on a china saucer.
    “She’s not going to die,” Josephine said. “I won’t let her. Remember that dog with the infected leg? No one expected him to live, either. But I saved him.”
Josephine had always thought of God as a vague fog that lived in the sky, someone who never bothered her and whose music was sweet. An insubstantial being, as though banished from the one who completed Him. But now she had no choice but to tremble and believe. The room was full of fever now, reeking like tidewater in which plants have died, and no amount of lavender could bury the smell. Libby’s dreams grew frantic. She called out sometimes. She saw things in the room that did not include her family.
    Josephine summoned her quiescent faith, which had not been visited since the days of the infected dog. She apologized for the long delay and prayed a desperate prayer that would have been high-pitched had it been spoken out loud. The wood planks of the floor hurt her knees. One shin pressed against the metal slats of the gravity vent; she felt a draft as her lips formed the words. The wool blanket that covered Libby’s bed scratched Josephine’s elbows. She finished the prayer and began it again, finished and began, wearing a groove down God’s patience, no doubt, but the thought of life without Libby was less imaginable than even the hereafter. Josephine started again. She heard her mother’s footsteps when she entered the room, and her sigh, and the sniff of hushed weeping. Her mother sat down on the bed, jostling Josephine’s elbows.
No one knew the exact hour of the fever’s breaking. It happened sometime during the night. Libby woke up that morning mumbling. By afternoon she whispered things that made sense. She had lost weight; her face was gaunt, filled with sickbed shadows. Josephine held her hand.
    The old doctor came in and shook his head. “She’s better,” he announced, as though it weren’t obvious. “There’s no medical explanation. These are the ways of God.”
    His breath smelled of absinthe. He gathered his bag and left the room, his back stooping.
    “I had such beautiful dreams,” Libby said. “It felt as though years had passed.”
    “No. You’ve been sick about a week. I’ve been here the whole time. I even slept in here.”
    “And Arden?”
    Josephine stiffened. “I don’t know where he’s been.”
    By early evening, Arden had heard the good news. He pulled a chair up to Libby’s bed and played cards with her. “I thought I had lost you,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it. I haven’t eaten in two days.”
    Josephine stood at the end of the bed and watched them play. The cards fanned out, shuffled, flew onto the bed one by one. Arden and Libby studied the cards, then each other.
    “I’m going now,” Josephine said.
    They didn’t hear her.
    That night Libby was led downstairs, leaning on her father’s arm. Her hands trembled, but she was able to sit with the family for dinner. Arden had been invited to eat with them. Libby picked at her food. Arden goaded her on. “Come on, come on, you’re so thin. How can we play unless you get strong again?”
    He had finally begun to nurse her, now that she was well.
    Mrs. Beale looked down the table at Libby, her expression tentative and warm. “Arden is so glad to have you back,” she said. “He was so worried about you. Weren’t you, Arden?”
Josephine saw them together in the shadows of the orchard. It was dusk. They had been there all day with their secrets and were now emerging, hand in hand. She glided into shadows of her own. By that cover, she watched them kiss. And like something suddenly noticed in the world, a color or a scent, she saw the kisses everywhere. Lightning quick and furtive. Covered in shadows or sheltered by the blinding light of noon, they went unnoticed by the rest of the world. She tried to turn her eyes away, but the kisses seemed attracted by her torment. When she could not see them, she heard them. And when she could not hear them, she imagined them. She wondered if a kiss could live in her own mouth, or if she was broken beyond repair, not a girl or a boy but a ghost, offering nothing to the world but a glow and a rustling.
    One day, as she was on her way to the dry goods store, at her mother’s orders, to buy a bolt of cloth and some needles, she met Arden coming the other way. His hair was getting long; he needed a haircut. Certainly her father would never let her brother Stephen’s hair grow past his ears. His hair made him look even more girlish with his high cheekbones and delicate brow.
    They stopped a few feet from one another, no greeting or wave. Just the stare of enemies.
    “You’ve been spying on us,” he said.
    “No, I haven’t.”
    “Yes, you have. You saw us kissing.”
    “Libby’s too young for kissing.”
    “She’s thirteen now. Maybe it’s not that you think she’s too young. Maybe it’s that she’s kissing me.”
    The sun was hot overhead. The coins in her hand felt sweaty. His voice was not angry. Just matter-of-fact.
    “That’s true,” she said. “I can think of better boys for her to kiss.”
    “You think about her too much. Where she goes, who she kisses. And I know why.”
    She didn’t answer him. She tried to step around him, but he blocked her path. She went the other way, and he blocked her again. His eyes looked straight at her. There was no one on the road.
    “It’s because,” he said, “you have no other friends, do you? Not a single one.”
    The statement burned inside her. She wanted to run away, but she knew he would catch her arm. Something about his voice told her he’d been waiting for the right moment to say these hurtful things, and he was going to force her to listen.
    “And you are always alone,” he added. “Because you are strange. You’re not like Libby. You don’t know how to talk to people. You have nothing interesting to say.”
    Josephine tried to deflect his words, not wanting him to see the hurt welling in her eyes. She looked at him directly and said coolly, “I do have interesting things to say. I just don’t say them to you.”
    Arden took a small step forward, looking at her with intense, unblinking eyes. “You know what you need? You need a sweetheart. But you won’t ever have one. You will never even get one kiss. No one will ever love you. You are invisible.”
   Josephine felt her face flush and a tiny hole form in her stomach, as though she’d been shot there. The cruelty in the remarks was the cool dispassion and the utter confidence with which they were spoken. It was true, sometimes she felt as though she were invisible, as though people drank in the sight of Libby and that was enough, that her place was in the shadows and her fate to be unseen. She stepped to the side of him and made her way to the store, trembling with rage and shame, the clenched coins digging into the flesh of her hand.

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Sisters of Shiloh 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Graywolf 11 months ago
This book is about love and war, sisterhood and family. The book seems pretty accurate for that time frame and what the sister might have done or used. It was a beautiful book about how far a sibling will go and what they will do for their sibling. The only thing that I found odd was that views on slavery were never really mentioned in the book even though slavery was a huge issue surrounding this particular war. In the end, it was a great short book.
lotsofpuppies More than 1 year ago
Libby's life and sanity falls apart when her husband is killed in the Battle of Sharpsburg.  Her sister Josephine's falls apart when she joins the Confederate Army to protect her sister Libby.  Disguised as male cousins, they march across the countryside...Libby determined to kill 21 soldiers to avenge her fallen husband, Josephine to protect her sister.  Along the way, these sisters and soldiers will discover the atrocities of war, the joys and sorrows of humanity, and the bond of everlasting love. This was a very good book that brought a female perspective of war, love, and family and makes one realize that war is not only fought on the battlefield, but in the mind and the heart as well.
Griperang72a More than 1 year ago
When I first started reading this book I thought "I am not sure I am going to like this book". The reason for this was I thought it was a little depressing. Well I am glad that I gave the book a shot and continued reading it. After getting into the story I decided that it was not depressing but rather had a deep story to tell. The more I got into the story the more I did not want to put this book down. In fact when I came to the end I found myself wishing it was just a little longer as I wanted more of Josephine's story. Both Libby and Josephine were such strong women but their bond as sisters was even stronger. Libby's love for her husband drove her to join the Stonewall Brigade to avenge his death. Josephine was not about to let her sister go without her as she was determined to protect her. The journey these two went on was such a hard journey not only physically but emotionally. I liked "meeting" the men in their regiment and how they became like a family together. The struggles these soldiers went through is beyond belief. I don't want to give to much away about Josephine falling in love with a soldier but I found myself cheering her on and wanting her to find her own happiness. I think these two authors did such a good job of not only telling a story but in making it so real. Their descriptions of the battlefields and wounds were so vivid that even though you did not want to see them you could imagine them in your mind. I could almost smell the smells and hear the sounds. It takes a good writer to make you feel this way and I think these two nailed it.  I will be recommending this book to lovers of history. 
Beverly_Stowe More than 1 year ago
War is brutal. War is cruel. War destroys families and friendships. War pits brother against brother, sister against sister, father against son and daughter. Yet, we keep on fighting, killing, and dying. From the opening sentence of Authors Kathy & Becky Hepinstall’s new historical fiction novel, SISTERS OF SHILOH, to the final sentence of the story, I was enchanted. First of all, the Civil War Era is my favorite time period in history. When I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. I’m so glad I did. It was all I had hoped for, and more. Second, the characters are mystical and magical, yet real with their good points and their faults. The story begins with Libby, the pretty daughter, talking to Arden, her dead husband, then moves to 1855, Winchester, Virginia, where we learn about Libby and her older sister, Josephine, the pale sister with the chipped tooth. The sisters are best friends, until Libby falls in love with Arden, the new boy next door, leaving Josephine with no place to belong and a bit resentful of Libby’s new best friend. Time passes. Libby and Arden marry. Arden joins the Confederate Army. Their happy lives no longer exist. The authors take the reader on a journey with the soldiers, showing the ugly side of war. The cold the soldiers endure, the hopeful spirit of the men and also the fear and sometimes resignation of the inevitable: death. Descriptive scenes of battle, of happier times, and of friendships formed and lost may bring tears to your eyes. They did mine, because though this is a fictional book the events portrayed actually happened. SISTER OF SHILOH tells the story of brave men and women that gave their all for what they believed in, and their lives were changed forever. If you enjoy historical fiction, the Civil War Era especially, you have to read SISTER OF SHILOH. As best as I can tell, the authors research is spot on, as they tell the story of America, perhaps of your own ancestors. This novel is a must addition for school libraries, as well as your personal library. The publisher sent me an ARC for my honest review. Thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ###
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
 I received an uncorrected proof of this novel from Houghton Mufflin Harcourt and Kathy and Becky Hepinstall as a Goodreads Giveaway.  Thank you so much for allowing me to read this novel! This is the story of two sisters who joined the Confederate Army - one to avenge the death of her husband, and the other, older sister to protect her sister, Libby.  Josephine spent a lot of her life protecting her sister Libby, the 'pretty one'.  At the beginning of their enlistment, Libby really needed protecting, as she lead with her heart for the most part, and had little in the way of common sense, which Josephine had in spades.  As the ladies adapt the camp life, which was very difficult in the Confederate Army, and the actualities of war, Libby does mature a bit, but it isn't until Josephine runs away with her love, Wesley that we see Libby grow up.   This is a good story with lot's of research obvious in the details and word pictures that stay with you.  I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Southern literature, Civil War details, or historical romances.  
Mirella More than 1 year ago
I like historical fiction novels that deliver unique perspectives on a particular period in history, and this novel does just that. It is written by two sisters and is about two sisters who disguise themselves as men in order to fight for the south in the American Civil War. It is a story of one woman who has lost her husband in the war. The loss is more than she can bear and her mind becomes fragile, fraught with haunting visions of her dead husband. She is set on avenging his death and enlists. Her sister, concerned, follows her in this dangerous mission as a means to protect her. This novel allows us a glimpse into the thin line between sanity and madness, and how it can become so easily blurred. If you love books about the civil war, especially those with strong heroines, then this is one to get. A very poignant read indeed.
Melinda_H More than 1 year ago
The Hempinstall's execute the setting with precision, the reader transported to the harshness, lurid and barbarous acts of the Civil War. Quite a burning narrative. The dichotomy of the two sisters - hate, love, revenge, mercy, addled, clearheaded was a plus. The contrast added scope and a certain unpredictability to both narrative and characters. The reader is on edge as dark secrets are reveled at random, an element of surprise welcomed.  As much fondness as I felt for this book, I was let down by the lack of character development. We really don't know much about Libby and Josephine "pre war." I understand Arden is the quasi reason bringing them to war but their motivation failed to evoke emotion from this reader, I blame it on what felt like a rushed condensed abbreviation of circumstances. Each woman was so self absorbed they canceled out recognizing each other's varied emotions, feelings, the sisterly bond of understanding divided and veered off.  The ending surprised me, I thought for sure it would have taken a different turn, the way it stands it is the calm after the storm leaving me pleasantly neutral. Brutal story of love and war slanting more towards war. Historical fiction fans, Civil War buffs will find this novel absorbing, graphic details bringing the cruelty of Civil War home.